As more and more companies look to automation to help them streamline B2B communication, API connections are becoming increasingly popular thanks to their ability to improve data visibility across EDI channels. An efficient and low maintenance EDI system is the goal of all forward thinking supply chain companies, and everyone recognises that simple and reliable message monitoring is a huge part of this. Less well known, however, is the impact that the method used to connect your ERP system and your chosen provider (AKA the “last mile” connection) can have on the efficiency of your EDI solution.
In this article we will outline the benefits of API integration and how it can improve your EDI landscape.
The key downsides of popular EDI connection methods
Before we explore the benefits of using an API for this “last mile” connection to your ERP system, however, let’s first consider the limitations of other common methods of connecting to EDI providers. These include (but are not limited to)…
- Other (e.g. RFC in the case of SAP systems)
Although there are obviously differences between these methods (some of which are expanded on here), they all share the following similarities:
- Lack of explicit non-repudiation proof. Some protocols, such as SFTP or FTPS, do not allow for acknowledgements to be sent back from the receiver to the sender (at least not on a per-default basis). Thus, the sender has no explicit proof that the receiver has actually received the sent file. The proof is implicit, by the fact that the receiver has read and received and received the message and then either moved it or deleted it. While the transmission will work in most cases, the tracking of a message exchange – in particular in case of failures – is difficult. Modern protocols, such as AS2 or AS4, help to overcome this limitation.
- None of these connection types offers full process traceability. In other words, while the message and its contents are sent, one can only trace the delivery status of a message to the next network, but not beyond. In case of outbound messages this means that in the ERP system I can only see that the message has been received by the EDI service provider. However, I have no trace if the message has been received by the final recipient. Unfortunately, not even modern protocols such as AS2 or AS4 help here.
There is one “last mile” connection method that does not suffer from these issues, however: Application Programming Interface, or API.
What is an API?
In short, an API is a collection of rules and protocols which specifies how the different components of applications should interact by defining exchange formats, exchange protocols, security requirements and so on.
How do API connections differ?
API connections differ from those mentioned above in that EDI message data and the status associated with a given EDI message are accessed directly via a dedicated interface. Because of the nature of the connection, metadata is not lost, meaning that information such as whether an order/invoice has been received by the EDI service provider or even the final message recipient (your partner) can be seen in your ERP’s existing user interface in real time. This dramatically improves the efficiency of your supply chain whilst minimising the potential for mix-ups and errors to occur.
Further, when errors do occur, the depth of data visibility afforded by API connections allows for the user to ascertain where the problem has occurred and what needs to be done to resolve it.
For example, let’s say you are waiting on a response from a supplier concerning an order you’ve sent. With other connection methods you may only be able to tell that your message was sent correctly and be left to assume that your partner received it. When conducting EDI via API, however, you may see that the order wasn’t received and why – in which case the order can be checked, corrected as necessary and resent.
Doing EDI via an API connection also affords the potential for full-text message searching within your ERP system (as offered by ecosio’s solution). This makes locating documents much faster, as users are able to use any identifiers located in a message – such as article numbers – as well as any other message meta information – such as AS2 message IDs, OFTP2 transmission IDs, etc. Meanwhile, providing access to data directly in your ERP system also helps to eliminate internal bottlenecks, as specialist teams do not need to go through IT to get key information.
Want more information on using API connections and optimising your EDI landscape?
This article is a snippet from our white paper Everything You Need to Know About VANs. In this paper we explore the different types of VANs, the complications associated with handling VAN connections in-house and the steps you can take to improve your current situation (among other topics).
To download your copy and learn more about Value Added Networks and how an API connection could help you streamline your EDI landscape, simply click here and fill in your details.
Alternatively, if you have any questions about what’s involved in conducting EDI via an API connection, or anything else EDI related, please get in touch. We are always happy to help!